Monday, July 4, 2011

A Bit of Family History


We went on vacation to the Bay Area for almost two weeks visiting friends and family. Our travels led us on numerous food-oriented activities; we tried a lot of different restaurants, visited farms, picked strawberries, shared meals with people we were visiting and did some cooking. We also visited my 93 year old grandmother. I am hoping that my children will retain some memories of her.

I love listening to her stories and this time she told me a small bit of 'culinary family history'. Her parents owned a grocery store when she was growing up. They both emigrated from Eastern Europe, came to this country and opened the store. Then he started making kielbasa and selling it. He would grind beef, pork and veal and fill a barrel with it. He would add salt, pepper, a forgotten list of spices, milk and cream.

"And lemons", she said.

"Lemon juice?", I asked.

"No, lemons", she said. "He would slice them up and put them in the kielbasa mixture".

Then the kids would mix that giant barrel worth of meat with their hands. "Better than using their feet",  my aunt piped in. I was trying to imagine sticking my arms all the way down into a barrel of ground meat. It sounded kind of interesting. I like working with ground meat, it is so pliable and we love bolognese and meatballs in this house.

After that they would feed it through a casing machine. Her sister (or brother) would hold the gut casing onto the machine and my grandmother would feed the mixture into the machine and turn the crank to push it through. They would make long kielbasa, almost a foot long. When they were done they took it out to a smokehouse her dad had built in the back yard. The smokehouse was made out of brick and he would burn the coals down to a red ash before filling putting kielbasa in and letting it smoke. I asked her if he made other types of sausages or deli meats.

"Just kielbasa, that was what he was good at", she said.

Her dad would advertise in the local paper and it was the most successful part of the store, they shipped kielbasa all over. People would call in and order large quantities for restaurants as well as just eating at home. I wish I could give it a try.

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